My James Bond retrospective: From Russia with Love.

After the immense success of 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman return to send Bond on yet another mission. From Russia with Love hit theaters just a year after Dr. No and featured Sean Connery reprising his role as the unflappable James Bond 007.

Naturally, following up a good film with a successful sequel is always difficult to do, but the team at EON Productions was up to the challenge. Once again, Terence Young took the helm and directed this feature, and much of the crew from Dr. No were present for this second go-around at a James Bond story.

From Russia with Love starts off with a scene from what appears to be a training facility where “James Bond” is killed by one of the villains of the movie, Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. (We quickly discover that it wasn’t Bond at all, but a double wearing a mask to look like Bond. Naturally.) We are then taken to Venice where we see a chess match between Kronsteen and MacAdams (a scene that recreates the Spassky-Bronstein match of 1960). Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb (the movie’s other primary villain, played by Lotte Lenya) have a meeting with the shadowy figure Ernst Stavro Blofeld, simply known as “Number 1” in this film. Through a bit of dialogue we discover that SPECTRE, the private organization that Dr. No mentioned in the previous film, is planning to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and that they intend to pit the Russians and the British against each other.

We get another glimpse at Red Grant for a few minutes before we are introduced to the lovely Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, a Russian spy who has unwittingly been enlisted into SPECTRE’s plot to steal the Lektor. Bianchi’s performance is excellent in this film, though I couldn’t help but feel the romance between her character and Bond was a bit forced. I was never certain whether she was really in love with Bond like she said or whether that was all an act as she had alluded to at the beginning of the film. Perhaps that was the filmmaker’s intention. While she was a much stronger character than Honey Ryder in Dr. No, she didn’t stand out the same way Ryder did.

More than fifteen minutes into the film, Bond makes his appearance, once again with Sylvia Trench. I like this character and I found myself wanting to explore the flirtation between her and Bond a bit more. Eunice Gayson plays the character well, but she’s a bit less tantalizing than she was in her first appearance.

Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee reprise their roles as Miss Moneypenny and M, respectively, and it’s exciting to see them continue to flesh out their characters. New to the franchise in this film is the quartermaster Major Boothroyd from Q Branch, played by Desmond Llewelyn. It’s a very small role, but we get our first glimpse of the character that would soon become Q, a mainstay of the Bond films for almost their entire lifetime.

It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the franchise. Certain elements that become synonymous with these films are still not quite in place, but you can see how they’re being introduced. Interestingly enough, Bond never utters the phrase, “Bond. James Bond.” It makes me wonder if the filmmakers even knew how important that phrase was to the character when he first spoke the words in Dr. No.

All in all, From Russia with Love was a good film, but I found that it was rather dull in several places. Even more talky than Dr. No, but without the sweeping cinematography of that film. Ted Moore certainly didn’t outdo himself this time around.

The film was a bit darker in tone than the first one while still retaining some lightheartedness. There were even some jokes that were thrown in there to keep the humor going. Unfortunately, the plot is too complex for its own good. The film ends up resorting to an inordinate amount of dialogue to explain what’s happening. There are several unusual cuts throughout the film, and I found myself scratching my head on many occasions while watching the movie.

Another thing that bothered me a little bit was the way the music was employed. There were scenes that just shouldn’t have bothered with a soundtrack, but the music was overwhelming the scene. An example of this is the scene where Bond is checking to see if his hotel room has been bugged. The theme composed by Monty Norman and John Barry is blaring in the foreground, taking away from the atmosphere created by the scene.

From Russia with Love is widely regarded as the best of the series, but I’m a bit puzzled as to why. It’s a good film, don’t get me wrong. I definitely enjoyed it, but as far as the film being the best of the series, I’m not convinced of that. It could possibly be among the top 5, certainly top 10, but I wouldn’t call it the best.

The film did include one of the grittiest fight scenes of the series, however; and for that it should be commended.

From Russia with Love is a worthy successor to Dr. No, and should certainly be regarded as one of the finer films of the franchise. Its darker tones, gritty realism, and superb acting all make it a film worth returning to. However, the best is yet to come…

Next up, Goldfinger.

(Click here to go back to the list.)

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